Karen's Blog

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Part I: African Adventure 2022

Johannesburg, South Africa

The month of August in 2022 was spent fulfilling a long time dream of going to South Africa, visiting Victoria Falls and finally experiencing an African Safari. David was my adventure buddy and we planned a trip that exceeded both of our expectations. We would start in Johannesburg, travel the Garden Route of South Africa to the Cape Winelands and end in Cape Town, From there we would see Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta and then end in Sabi Sabi.

Map showing some of the areas we visited

Our journey began with an arduous 19 hour flight made more comfortable with Virgin Atlantic lay flat bed suites. We enjoyed movies, delicious meals, and at bedtime, put our sheets on the bed and flew in comfort. As most know, VIrgin Atlantic is a partner with Delta so we were able to use SkyMiles to enjoy this wonderful method of flying. I worked with a fantastic agent at Delta who was able to work through her system to find the best option using the lowest number of miles. When she told me 110,000 miles, I told her to quit talking and start booking. I couldn’t believe it! I wish I’d gotten her name as she saved me lots of money.

We arrived refreshed and ready to see the sights in Johannesburg. Warned by many that Johannesburg was an extremely dangerous city, we planned our trip using wisdom from other trips and good common sense. There was supposed to be a private transfer upon our arrival in Joburg to our hotel. After waiting for about 20 minutes, I decided that the driver wasn’t coming and made my own arrangements. I’d read that taxis were risky so I sought out a local woman waiting for family who said we should use Uber rather than a taxi. But, she said to only use Uber Black and we would be safe. Following her instructions, we ended up with a delightful South African lady who was appalled that our driver did not show. She took us to the most beautiful Marriott property, Melrose Arch African Pride Hotel. Wow! How beautiful. The service was impeccable and the food was superb.The breakfast display was especially picture worthy with a baobab tree gracing the serving area.

That evening we strolled around Melrose and felt very safe. Our dinner was one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant named the Grillhouse. It was hilarious how we discovered the restaurant. After checking in to the hotel, two young men in their twenties were manning the front desk where I inquired, “Where is the best place to have dinner in Melrose?” In unison, they said “Steak at the Grillhouse ”. Well, what can you do but go to the Grillhouse and eat steak?! David opted for Malva Pudding for dessert which we later learned is a South African staple. I guess you can say that Southerners love Banana Pudding and South Africans love Malva Pudding. I will definitely be making this delicacy for my family upon returning to the USA. (Do your self a favor by googling the recipe and making some for yourself. Divine!)

We opted to hire a local guide in Johannesburg for safety reasons. Our guides name is Nthato, and as luck would have it…his neighborhood was Soweto. A true stroke of luck! After a trip up the hill for a history lesson over looking the city, he took us to Nelson Mandela’s last home before his death and then south into Soweto.

Nelson Mandela’s last home. His children still live there.

Nthato took us to Constitution Hill where Mandela was originally imprisoned. Those in Johannesburg understood that if you went to prison there, coming out alive was not an option. Somehow, Mandela beat the odds. It was a horrid place where prisoners were beaten, starved, and tortured. There stands an eternal flame to remind the people of the cost for Democracy.

After seeing Constitution HIll and Mandela’s prison, we made our way to the Apartheid Museum. My ticket had me enter as a Non-White and David entered as a White to help us understand the differences in life based on color of skin. As I entered, I had to go down, down, down and had to be interrogated by the guards. Then, I was allowed to “rise” and enter the museum. David, as a white person, entered on the side where he walked up, up, up. This was just one way to remind the Non-white person that their station in life was lower. What a way to start the day and to be reminded of the stupidity of the human race. The museum was very well done and in so many ways was identical to what happened in the USA with Martin Luther King at the forefront.

Finally, we came all the way back to Soweto to Nelson Mandela’s original home which we toured. Nthato showed us the street corner where Desmond Tutu’s home stood and explained that this was the most famous street in Africa: Vilakazi Street. What are the odds that Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela would live on the same street in a poor neighborhood and both win the Nobel Peace Prize?

As we exited the Mandela House, Nthato said, “Come with me. I want to show you my people and let you taste our food”. So, we rounded the corner and he took us to his “take out” restaurant and bar. The restaurant consisted of two picnic tables where a beautiful young lady in the back was making Kota Mince, their fast food, which Nthato bought for each of us. How generous! David immediately ate one and I took mine back to the hotel to eat later.

We drove a little way down the road where Nthato walked us to the Hector Peterson Museum and shared the story of the famous picture seen around the world which brought the spotlight on South Africa and the plight of the people during apratheid. The little boy who was shot and died was merely coming home from school and got caught in the crossfire of angry policemen. Such a waste of a precious life.

It was also at this stop that I had the chance to interact with school children as they walked home from school. I asked permission to take a picture with them and they were thrilled. They had no idea that I was thrilled too. Of course, they just had to see the picture as soon as it was taken.

As the day came to an end, Nthato showed us the stadium where the 2010 FIFA World Cup was held and also shared with us what we all dread seeing in Africa or any country…abject poverty.

Nthato dropped us off at Melrose African Pride Hotel and made arrangements to meet us the next day to visit the Cradle of Human Kind which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 specifically to understand more about the birth of humankind.

We opted to traverse the Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Human Kind where paleo anthropologists have discovered thousands of hominids and other animals thought to be the beginning of mankind. The most famous of these fossils are Little Foot, thought to be between 3 and 4 thousand years old and Mrs. Ples, whose skull is thought to be more than 2 million years old. The caves were very easy to traverse in most places while in others we were required to crawl through some tight uncomfortable spaces. Upon arrival to the caves (without a reservation) we were told that we could go with a school group immediately or wait 2 hours and have an independent tour. Those who know me well, know exactly what I opted for. I was excited about seeing the caves through some 8 year old eyes and hearing exclamations of awe!

The caves are about an hour from Johannesburg so we had time to hear many interesting stories from Nthato about his life, where he lives, his children, the history of Johannesburg and so much more. We even got an invitation to come to his home next time we visit because he wants us to partake of his wife’s cooking. Nthato says she is the BEST cook!

Nthato also treated us to learning about the Xhosa culture and language. The Xhosa speak with a “click” in their language and is very distinctive. He not only shared the language but treated us to the “click song”. Watch the video to hear the clicks/pops in their language.

Our time in Johannesburg had come to an end. We were so glad that we didn’t listen to the “noise” that said….”Don’t go there. It’s not safe!”. Instead, we found a delightful young man with whom we shared three days, learned a tremendous amount about South Africa, Johannesburg, Apartheid and Democracy. We even got an invitation for dinner upon our return to Joburg.


4 Replies to “Part I: African Adventure 2022”

  1. Sharon Farkas says:

    Thanks for sending. Looking forward to the next one since I’m sure I’ll never get there. Could never have done the cave. Too claustrophobic!

    • karenlordrutter says:

      I had a moment or two of discomfort when we had to crawl through the tight spaces. I’m claustrophobic too. Did not like it! But seeing the rest of the cave was worth it though. Don’t give up hope, you just might get there sooner than you think. It has taken me a LONG time to get there too!

  2. Stormey Cone says:

    I’m very curious about the clicks used in the Xhosa language. Is there meaning associated with the clicks? If so, what is the meaning?

    • karenlordrutter says:

      Xhosa uses the Roman alphabet and the three types of clicks are the letters C, X and Q. So, clicks are consonants. I tried so hard to make the clicks as Nhtato did and it is very difficult; yet it is just a part of their language that comes naturally. Fun, huh?

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